Having enjoyed breaking down Dwight Freeney last week – and the Colts having obtained an easy victory against an offense not really worth examining – I've decided this week to look at one of the Colts' prospective replacements in the secondary, Darius Butler. All I knew of Butler prior to his career with the Colts is that he'd been a part of a memorably atrocious New England secondary, along with the question 'how is he still in the league?'
After watching our game against the Jaguars, Butler appeared to be one of the few bright spots in a fairly routine, mediocre victory over the Jaguars. An interception returned for a touchdown is a rare sight indeed when watching the Colts' defensive group, and that's without even mentioning his fumble recovery and added fortuituous interception towards the end of the game. In the wake of Jerraud Powers' season ending injury, Butler is clearly going to form part of the defensive backfield for the short term future.
Having re-examined the game under the microscope of All-22 with appropriate play counts and the like, and the earlier conclusion can be modified. While Butler clearly possesses good adjustment speed and the feet to play the position, he certainly didn't seem to be that different from our other defensive backs, whether in terms of cushion provided, play recognition or tackling. Instead of running through detailed plays with comprehensive breakdowns, I'll simply take you to plays where passes were completed against Butler or he was a primary influence after the jump..
The first play i'll briefly show is a 1st and 10 for the Jags with roughly 7:00 to go in the first quarter.
Butler is in off-coverage against Laurent Robinson of the Jaguars, who's going to run a curl route within a few yards of where he lines up. Butler gives him roughly 8 yards from the line, a considerable distance.
And by the time the ball is in the air, Butler remains a good 5 yards away from Robinson. There aren't many corners that possess the closing ability to stop this play from being made. I don't think Butler is one of them.
Robinson ends up completing the reception for an ultimate gain of 8 yards. Not a catastrophe by any means, but not exactly something we're unfamiliar with. 10 yard cushion, comfortable completion, success for the offense on first down.
He didn't exclusively play with such a cushion throughout the game, and to illustrate, the next play he was targeted on came with little space between Robinson and Butler. It's a 1st and 10 at the start of the 2nd quarter.
As mentioned, Butler is up close to the line on Robinson. He's not seeking to press, instead he'll try and track Robinson down the field. Robinson will be running an inside curl, at which point he'll break to the outside and try to shake Butler off. Antoine Bethea is in a single-high look, and as a result has to try and account for both of his corners on either side of the field. When your corners are Cassius Vaughn and Darius Butler, that leaves you in a tricky position.
In the event, Gabbert throws a back shoulder ball to Robinson, who adjusts perfectly and comes back to meet it right on time. Butler's reaction time is at the very least, adequate.
The ball is completed, and here's where Butler's shaky tackling skills come to the fore. He tries to latch on to Robinson, who proves too elusive.
Fortunately, Butler manages to grab a hold of Robinson, which is enough to stymie his momentum. This allows Antoine Bethea to chivvy him out of bounds for a reasonable gain of 19. Honestly though, I'd much rather see us give up plays like that than two short passes on large cushions. At least in this case there isn't the inevitability of the pass being completed. Does this matter when we're winning our games? Yeah, if we're planning to make any sort of run this year. As we'll see next weekend, our 'beat us if you're good enough, beat yourselves if you aren't' style of defense simply won't cut it against the better teams in the AFC. Tom Brady is going to have enough fun as it is, can anyone imagine Peyton Manning against this defensive backfield? It's not a nice thought, and yet it's one that could come to fruition in the Wildcard round.
On this specific play, I'm surprised to have to say that it's a great throw from Gabbert.
Two plays later, we're back to the 9 yard cushion. Lo and behold, the Jags run another 5 yard curl route.
Butler does a better job in not dropping off further to maintain the cushion. He allows Robinson to naturally erode the cushion while he reads the quarterback.
As a result, he's closer to Robinson at the time of release, and he's in a better position to make a play.
Robinson stretches out a paw and manages to snag it for a gain of 6. Even though Butler again allowed a huge distance pre-snap between himself and Laurent Robinson, I do think he was markedly better in execution this time around.
Two plays later (one of the two being a wild incompletion aimed at Robinson), and the cushion remains steady. It's a 2nd and 10, so Butler gives himself 10 yards of room straight off the bat. Joy.
The Colts are going to be running a fairly simple man coverage package, where the Colts LB Moise Fokou (#58 – OLB) is assigned to the Jags RB in coverage. Watch him track the RB in pass protection and shift his focus towards the primary receiver.
I'm just going to keep talking about Fokou to avert my eyes from the sheer size of the damned gap between Robinson and Butler. These plays are in chronological order, so the previous curls have indeed taken place at this point. And yet we're still giving 10 yard cushions. Anyway, here's the point where Fokou switches his attention.
Fokou isn't oblivious to the threat of the curl route, staggeringly enough. He shows his awareness and moves towards Robinson before he makes the catch. Butler is still a good five yards away as Robinson is in position to reel in the football.
To cut a long story (and a story you've probably seen before) short, Butler wraps Robinson up in an attempted tackle, before Fokou comes across and makes the tackle. The ball pops loose due to some poor handling by Laurent Robinson and a heads-up strip by Fokou, and Butler recovers the fumble. While Butler gets plus points for the 'right place, right time' factor, the coverage wasn't really very good at all, and the call on the fumble could really have gone either way in terms of down by contact.
I can't really break down Butler's game on Thursday without showing the big splash play he was responsible for, so here we are. The Colts are by my count in a fairly simple zone package reminiscent of Cover 2, with Jerry Hughes (#92 – LOLB) dropping into coverage from a blitzing stance. I've drawn on the route concepts to show that Gabbert does have a few checkdown options on the play, and yet decides to force it to Cecil Shorts (red) without really thinking about it. Butler gives Shorts 10 yards on the snap as per usual.
Now, as Gabbert looks to release the ball, Butler is rapidly closing on Shorts and displays his quickness in the process. The 10 yard cushion is eroded down to 6 by Butler's movement.
By the time the ball reaches the general area of Shorts, the cushion has almost completely disappeared. Furthermore, Shorts has been looking back towards his quarterback for a couple of seconds, clearly indicating that he's looking for the ball. When Gabbert does eventually let fly, it's an absolutely shambolic throw.
We can see here how Shorts is bracketed by both Hughes and Butler as his route initially develops. There is however a considerable area of open space for Shorts on the out-breaking route, more than enough for Gabbert to make the play.
At this point, Shorts has to adjust his stride pattern. He knows where he wants the ball, though the throw is sadly nowhere near and he clocks on immediately.
The true tale of the play can be seen here with Shorts' feet. Look at their proximity, showing the rate at which he had to slow down to even put himself in the area of Gabbert's throw. Butler is on the other hand able to track the football and maintain control of his body throughout the play, taking loping strides to put himself in the position to make the play.
Butler picks it off and takes it for 6 at the start of the 3rd quarter, and it's effectively game over. It's a nice play to have from a defensive perspective, particularly with the unit so deficient in terms of turnovers. This shouldn't get away from the fact that the throw is just dreadful. The thought of Roger Goodell trying to sell the NFL product in London through the vehicle of Blaine Gabbert.. aha. Good luck with that.
After showing his semblance of playmaking potential, the Jags seemed to target Butler less as the game went on. There were a couple of significant plays – one incompletion deep down the centre which seemed to elude everyone's notice, and a quick slant which was mopped up relatively quickly by Butler.
What conclusion have I come to, having come out of Thursday with fairly positive thoughts about Butler? He seems to be no worse than our other corners at this point in time, though I consider that an impossible task when put with Cassius Vaughn. As I mentioned previously, I don't particularly gain a great deal from breaking down defensive tape against Blaine Gabbert, so i'll leave any thoughts about the unit as a whole until after we face what has been the embodiment of brutal efficiency on offense for a couple of years. I don't see how Tom Brady will be troubled on Sunday – we may get a couple of quick sacks through the talents of Mathis and Freeney, but consistent pressure? I doubt it. The thought of Rob Gronkowski against Tom Zbikowski is alarming, and that's before we move into Welker/Hernandez/Lloyd vs. Vaughn/Butler/Gordy. I get the feeling there might be an angry fanbase on Monday morning, though even if we're defeated by 40, there's no reason to be. Our current position is inflated, and it's time for a recalibration.
Be afraid for Sunday. Be very afraid.